New Year in Saint Louis

A minor scene, to set the stage for the new year.

I am sitting on the fly-infested terrace of Hotel de La Poste in Saint Louis, the old capital of French West Africa. Within earshot, the sounds of cars rattling along on the old, rusty bridge, named after the Frenchman Faidherbe, who ran this place in the 1860s. The bridge has been here for well over a century and is being replaced.

Pont Faidherbe, Saint Louis

Amidst the flies and the noise I am reading a new magazine: Melting Pop. It’s not the best of names but still: with a daring picture of South African dancer Neliswe Xaba on the cover you are sure to have an impact in this deeply conservative country. Melting Pop celebrates “métissage”, the mixing of minds, cultures, bodies and souls.

Enter a large fiftysomething French woman. Dressed to the nines, hair in an authoritative bun. Slippers. She is quite clearly of the opinion that we are still in the era of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the man who delivered mail by plane from France to Senegal – then still an internal flight.

She starts ordering Moussa about: take my luggage there, get my seat in the car ready, that sort of thing. Moussa is her servant, apparently, and maybe even her temporary toy-boy, who knows. He listens quasi attentively, decked in a bright “Fly Emirates” T-shirt, baseball cap on his head, jogging trousers, sport shoes. A cigarette loosely fits between two fingers of his right hand. The woman uses the kind of rapid-fire guttural French, which with time becomes indistinguishable from bubbling water in a French country river. I am sure Moussa misses at least two-thirds of what she is on about.

Melting Pop, meanwhile, turns out to be an interesting mix of photography, music (it features Mulatu Astatsqé’s sensational 2009 album and also Lisbon-based kuduro band Buraka Som Sistema), there’s also visual arts, reviews and fashion. Trendy stuff from the city. And then there are the more conventional things: the long interview, the resuscitation of Panafricanism and the long highbrow analytical article so beloved by Francophone authors. But on the whole, it’s interesting and challenging. Made in Dakar.

Melting Pop also has the obligatory “who’s up who’s down” page. IN and OUT it’s called. My predictions for 2010, the 50th birthday of Senegal and a baker’s dozen of other African countries: old Pont Faidherbe, Saint Exupéry and that rather insufferable French woman will be OUT. The new bridge, Melting Pop and the happy mixing of everything are coming IN. Oh, and Moussa too, although he may not be aware of it…

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One Response to “New Year in Saint Louis”

  1. A tunnel with two dead ends | Bram Posthumus - Yoff Tales Says:

    […] attitude that seems to come from too many European individuals who stay in this part of the world. I saw a little example of that many years ago and I have no doubt that there are many more. (In nominally Francophone West Africa everyone who […]

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